Electrophysiological markers of newly acquired symbolic numerical representations: the role of magnitude and ordinal information
- 570 Downloads
It is not yet understood how children acquire the meaning of numerical symbols and most existing research has focused on the role of approximate non-symbolic representations of number in this process (see Piazza, (Trends in Cognitive 14(12):542–551, 2010). However, numerical symbols necessitate an understanding of both order and magnitude, therefore order likely also plays a role in learning about number. Here, we used an artificial symbol-learning paradigm to contrast learning approximate numerical magnitude with learning numerical order. Thirty-two adult participants were randomly assigned to either the magnitude training group, in which they were trained to associate novel abstract symbols with non-symbolic numerical magnitudes, or the order training group, in which they were taught the ordinal sequence of the symbols, in analogy to the count sequence. Subsequently, electroencephalographic (EEG) data were recorded while participants completed a magnitude comparison task with the newly learned symbols. Comparing these newly acquired symbols affected event related potentials (ERPs) in a way that resembled comparisons of real numerical symbols [e.g. Temple & Posner, (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 95(13):7836–7841, 1998)]. Furthermore, these ERP effects did not differ across learning groups, suggesting that adults formed similar representations regardless of method of instruction. In turn, the current findings highlight the potential role of ordinal information in symbolic acquisition.
KeywordsOrder Magnitude ERPs Symbol
R. M. is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canada (NSERC) and A. S. and G. S. are supported by a James S. McDonnell Foundation Understanding Human Cognition Award.
- De Smedt, B., Noël, M.-P., Gilmore, C., & Ansari, D. (2013). How do symbolic and non-symbolic numerical magnitude processing skills relate to individual differences in children’s mathematical skills? A review of evidence from brain and behavior. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 1–8. doi: 10.1016/j.tine.2013.06.001.
- Dehaene, S. (2011). The number sense: how the mind creates mathematics, revised and updated edition. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Leibovich, T., & Ansari, D. (in press). The symbol-grounding problem in numerical cognition: a review of theory, evidence and outstanding questions. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology.Google Scholar
- Lyons, I. M., Ansari, D., & Beilock, S. L. (2012). Symbolic estrangement: evidence against a strong association between numerical symbols and the quantities they represent. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General. doi: 10.1037/a0027248.
- Merkley, R. (2015). Beyond number sense: Contributions of domain-general processes to the development of numeracy in early childhood. Unpublished doctoral thesis. University of Oxford.Google Scholar
- Price, G. R., Palmer, D., Battista, C., & Ansari, D. (2012). Nonsymbolic numerical magnitude comparison: reliability and validity of different task variants and outcome measures, and their relationship to arithmetic achievement in adults. Acta Psychologica, 140(1), 50–57. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2012.02.008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Temple, E., & Posner, M. I. (1998). Brain mechanisms of quantity are similar in 5-year-old children and adults. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 95(13), 7836–41. Retrieved from http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=22775&tool=pmcentrez&rendertype=abstract.
- Tzelgov, J., Yehene, V., Kotler, L., & Alon, A. (2000). Automatic comparisons of artificial digits never compared: learning linear ordering relations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 26(1), 103.Google Scholar
- Zhao, H., Chen, C., Zhang, H., Zhou, X., Mei, L., Chen, C., & Dong, Q. (2012). Is order the defining feature of magnitude representation? An ERP study on learning numerical magnitude and spatial order of artificial symbols. PLoS ONE, 7(11), e49565. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar